Al-Zindani’s New Authority: A Spoiler or Split in the Islah Party? [Archives:2008/1178/Opinion]

August 4 2008

Farouk Al Salihi
By launching the Authority for Protecting Vriture and Fighting Vice (APVFV) that Sheikh Abdul Majid Al-Zindani has started preparations for, he seems to be putting the Islah Party in a dilemma to choose between its internal unity and its external JMP coalition, which in either way will affect the party and coalition's chances to win more seats in the incoming parliamentary elections in 2009.

The Yemeni Joint Meeting Parties Coalition has been perceived by a number of political observers as an impressive coalition in Arab politics. Its innovation is that it combines conservative and liberal parties in one front, an unprecedented act in the Arab World. Such a coalition has shown a potential for the main opposition parties to win general elections in the future and stimulated Western countries to reconsider dealing with these parties, especially the Islah Party.

By leading the JMP coalition, the Islah Party has shown that it is a moderate party willing to cooperate with those who stand on the other side of the political spectrum. Such a change has even qualified Islah to get some technical training by the American Democratic Institute. However, the divide inside the party between the moderates who favor the coalition and the hardliners, lead by Sheikh Al-Zindani, who are not interested in it has left big question marks whether the party will continue to be in coalition or secede to protect its internal front. The presidential elections of 2006 showed clearly this divide when Al-Zindani and Sheikh Abdulla Al-Ahmar declared personal support to President Saleh, and now the new Authority of Al-Zindani presents the second blow to the unity of the Islah Party and potential damage to its JMP coalition due the controversy of posing a threat to personal freedom and human rights.

How could Al-Zindani present a split in the Islah Party?

Sheikh Al-Zindani is the founder of the Islah Party, and until recently he was its spiritual leader, and a big portion of the party members still rally around his ideas and political views. Launching the new Authority will force the moderates inside the party to make difficult choices to either stand behind him disregarding opposition of the other coalition parties, or to show disinterest in the Authority and therefore concede for a split or further divide that will be difficult to gap before the close parliamentary elections next year. It seems that the moderate party leaders will have to make intricate calculations to face this dilemma before the election campaign begins.

And how could he be a spoiler?

The JMP coalition survived the Islah Party divide in the elections of 2006 describing the Party's president and founder's decision to vote for President Saleh as personal choice, but the new Authority of Al-Zindani carries a clear ideological content strongly opposed not only by the other coalition parties, but also by many GPC members. Even if the Islah leaders convince the other coalition leaders of turning a blind eye to the issue, their constituents will pressure them to define their position which will unlikely be supportive of the Authority. In this case, Sheikh Al-Zindani will be a successful spoiler of the coalition that he did not favor that much, and therefore he will be helping in eliminating the chances of the coalition parties to win the aspired parliament seats.

But where might be the GPC of all that?

It depends. If either scenario comes true–Islah split or coalition collapse– Sheikh Al-Zindani will have been fought the battle of the GPC. In the previous elections, the coalition has followed a closed district system that gives a number of districts to each party and urges its members to vote to the decided party, which is an effective tactic to bulk the scattered votes for one candidate, but either scenario is effective enough to negatively impact the chances of opposition candidates in the elections. But if the coalition parties succeed to handle the controversy of the Authority (third scenario), the GPC will bring it into the front, and it might be one of its best sailing issues in the election campaign. It will sell itself as the sole defender of freedom and human rights in the country and that will highly convince undecided voters to vote for its candidates.

In conclusion, Sheik Al-Zindani's new Authority for Protecting Virtue and Fighting Vice presents a threat to the JMP coalition due to its predicted controversy of violating human rights. Launching the Authority might result in a split inside the Islah Party or a collapse of the coalition itself, which in either way will hamper the coalition parties' chances in the coming parliamentary elections, and if the parties survive this dilemma, it will be a good material for the GPC in the election campaign.

These are three scenarios predicted to ferment in reaction to Al-Zindani's Authority, lets wait and see! It's less than a year from now.